The age of your child will determine which areas of communication are most relevant in your home, but this week’s topic – acknowledging and validating – can apply almost from birth.
Acknowledging and validating are easy skills, once you’re familiar with them, but they may take a little getting used to. Acknowledging is letting someone know that you’re actively listening to what they’re saying, and validating is letting them know that their feelings are understandable and justified.
For example, your child tells you that she’s had a bad day. It’s easy to downplay the comment, and say something like, “Oh, that’s too bad honey. I’m sure tomorrow will be better.” Acknowledging, on the other hand, would be more like this: you look the child in the eye, and say in a comforting voice, “I’m sorry to hear that. Why don’t you tell me more about what happened.” You’re taking the comment seriously, and the child feels heard.
She goes on to tell you that her best friend didn’t want to play with her, and she didn’t have anybody to sit with at snack time. To validate this comment, you could say something like, “It’s never a good feeling when people aren’t nice to you. I feel bad when I have problems with my friends, too,” or a statement along these lines. The actual wording is less important than letting the child know that her feelings are ok, and helping her to process the situation.
If you’ve never done any of this before, it may feel (and sound) funny to you – as though you’re just repeating back a lot of what your child is saying. However, many moms report that these tools work like a magic trick; from the child’s perspective, the mom suddenly seems to understand the child’s feelings much better, so the child feels less frustrated and often becomes more willing to talk about a situation.
Young children are bombarded with emotions. By acknowledging and validating, you help them to make sense of their feelings, and you teach them words they can use to express themselves. You don’t have to agree with how the child feels either. Using the earlier example, even if you think the child is making too big a deal out of the situation, you can still validate by talking only about her; “I can see that it’s really hard for you when you have trouble with your friends,” for instance.
With babies and toddlers, you’re acknowledging them when you respond to their crying. After they’re a few months old, it becomes easier to validate as well: “Oh, look at that, you have a poopy diaper! No wonder you’re crying!” or “It makes you sad that the dog grabbed your toy.” Again, the goal is to give them words to associate with their emotions, and to help them feel heard and understood – something we all want!
Your assignment: Look for opportunities to acknowledge and validate your children this week. Any time they talk about their feelings, positive or negative, you have the chance to give this a try. You might be surprised at the impact it has!